Janet’s genetic makeup is one of the best creations of instant evolution. It gives rise to a body plan that is aerodynamic enough to fly, hydrodynamic enough to dive, and strong enough to survive by sinking to the surface of the ocean at speeds above 50 mph. The same cannot say of the azhdarchid pterosaurs, the largest flying spine.
This giant flying reptile had a longer neck than a giraffe, which stunned paleontologists. How can you fly with such a thing, and not break your neck? New research published in the journal Science believes that significantly stronger poles can survive under some pressure to look like part of a bicycle for an internal structure. “One of our most important quests is to arrange cross-struts in the vertebral center,” said Dave Martell of the University of Portsmouth in the UK in a statement.
“Unlike the spinal cord of any animal seen earlier, the neural tube is placed centrally in the vertebrae and is through several thin rod-like trabeculae attached to the outer wall. They even cross like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. Evolution has shaped these animals into abrupt, suffocating flyers.” Wind champions hovered in the skies of the Late Triassic about 225 million years ago, helping them with a 12-meter (39.4-foot) wing path. Airborne giants need light internal structures if they were to fly, as can be seen in many existing birds with aerial bones.
However, for a neck of azhdarchid pterosaur length, it makes no sense, because something so delicate must not survive the pressures of aerial life. Add to that the equation that the azhdarchid were deadly predators, threw out large prey, and the body plan less understood. Solving this multidisciplinary puzzle was a matter of accident, because the first author of the study, Cariad Williams, actually began scanning this spine, as a means had better understand their vertebrae, which seemed quite limited.
“These animals have ridiculously lengthened necks,” Williams said. “This makes a giraffe look perfectly normal. We wanted to know a little bit about how this incredibly long base works, because it seems to be much less dynamic in each vertebra.” Using the CT scanner, they were able to peek inside the vertebrae and were surprised to see that their internal structure is perfectly preserved. The radial trabeculae were equipped with a helix that passed, somewhat like the mouthpiece of a bike wheel.
They called in some engineers who were able to better translate the biomechanics of strange structures. Their analysis revealed that 50 of these spoke-type trabeculae nearly doubled the weight that the azhdarchid could tolerate without bending their necks. “It appears that this structure of ultra-thin cervical vertebrae and helically arranged cross-struts add up to how these animals were able to support huge heads – more than 1.5 meters – longer than modern-day giraffes in the neck,” Martill said While retaining flight power.”
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